Part 1

Hello! Thank you for joining me. I’ve got a story for you today. It starts right here.

When I was about your age, I used to come here all the time. This was a little bit before the Barrage was built, before Mermaid Quay looked the way that it does now.

I also remember the time when they were building the Barrage. We were all interested to know what it was going to look like down here.

I remember coming down here the day the Barrage opened to the public. I remember standing exactly where you are. I looked at the statue that you’re looking at. I followed the line of her pointing finger out towards the Barrage, towards the open estuary beyond.

I remember that day so well because of what happened next. All about me, people were eating icecream and milling about and talking about how they were going to walk across the Barrage. Nobody was paying attention to the water in the bay. But I was. And I saw it move. I saw it ripple. I saw something appear, just for a moment, on the surface.

I went down the steps to the edge of the water to get a closer look. Perhaps it was just a diving bird or a fish, or a bit of flotsam and jetsam, floating on the water. But it had seemed to me to be much larger. It had seemed to me to have a long neck and a spiny head, and wings folded along its back.

There! There it was again. It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a fish. It definitely wasn’t flotsam. Or jetsam.

“Hello!” I called out to the creature, as loudly as I dared, because there were people everywhere. “It’s alright!”

Whatever it was drew closer to me and splashed about a bit and again I saw those wings and its long spiny back. It also seemed to have a tail of some description. I couldn’t tell what colour it was. It seemed to change colour every time I looked at it. One minute it was green, the next blue, the next grey. All the different colours of the shifting water of the Bay.

I went down on my hands and knees and put my face as close to the water as I could. And that’s when I got the biggest shock of my life. Staring back at me from the water were two of the biggest, darkest, saddest eyes I’d ever seen. They were set into a scaly head with small nostrils and a shock of spines around the forehead. It was, unmistakeably, some sort of small dragon.

“Who are you?” I breathed.

The sea-dragon looked about and splashed the water sadly with its tail.

“Do you live here?”

The dragon’s head dipped in sadness.

“Are you lost?” I asked, because the dragon looked so very sad.

The dragon raised its wet head once more and squeaked. I suddenly realised something. “Are you – not from here at all? Did you get stuck in here, when they built the barrage?”

The little dragon splashed the water again, this time with excitement, so I knew I was on the right track. I thought very hard. I thought about what you could see from the bay, on a clear day, if you looked out to the Bristol Channel. Two Islands. Everyone called them Flatholm and Steepholm, but my mam had told me they had another name, too. The Islands of Summer. She had told me that those islands were a magical place, not really a part of this world, but part of the otherworld.

“Oh no!” I said, realising suddenly. “You’re not from this world at all, are you? You’re from the islands! You must have got stuck in here and now you can’t get home.”

Tears began to pour from the little dragon’s big dark eyes but at that moment, a crowd of tourists came strolling past and I had to get up very hurriedly and pretend I wasn’t looking at anything. When I looked back at the water, the sea-dragon had vanished.

All I could think about for the rest of the day was the little sea-dragon and how sad it was, and what I could do to help. All I could think about was its big dark eyes looking at me so imploringly from the water. I decided I would do everything I could to help it. So, that night, when everyone had gone to bed, I slipped out of the house and made my way to the bay. I’d prepared in advance and borrowed my mam’s biggest shopping bag.

But I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about being down the bay at night. You see, my mam’s stories weren’t just about the Islands of Summer out there in the sea. She also told me about the creatures of Mermaid Quay. She said that, at night, the bay came alive and there were all sorts of beings down here. I knew I was going to have to be very careful.

I came back to this exact spot and called for the sea-dragon. But there was no sign of it. What was I going to do?

I decided to walk along the quayside and keep looking into the dark waters of the bay for any sign of movement.

Can you follow me now? Keep your eyes peeled. I think I see something moving, in the water, up by that big bronze ring. Maybe the sea-dragon’s there. Walk quietly in case you scare it. It’s very nervous!

Bute park trail: part 1